MANY people have a different approaches to football — mine is to use it as a vehicle for enjoyment; having a laugh, spending time with your mates, going to the home games with my Dad, seeing friends before and after the match, ending up in places in Europe I’d never go to otherwise (you wouldn’t go to Augsburg on holiday, would you?), and having loads of fun when Liverpool are really good at football. It’s a bit grim for 90 minutes when the Reds are grim, but you still find ways of enjoying it.
So at the minute, I’m enjoying things quite a lot. It’s fun, we’re winning, we look really good at football, we’ve scored nine goals in our first two home league games, won at Arsenal and Chelsea, and really do look like we’ll have a go at trying to win the title. Although I’d feel considerably happier if I woke up tomorrow morning and found out that Gavin Peacock had got inside the heads of the whole Manchester City squad and whisked them off to Canada to join him in his Church, but what can you do? We play the cards we’re dealt.
That’s what I’m in football for anyway, I suspect it’s what plenty of people are in football for. But there are people who clearly aren’t. Being right on the internet is more important to them. Rewind a few months and there were plenty of people absolutely irate that Jürgen Klopp had the temerity to sign a player they didn’t really want in Sadio Mane and that it was a stupid signing. You see, being aggressively vocal is really important to these people.
Personally, I’ve watched him plenty of times this season and wish we’d not bothered signing him and instead have signed someone who can sit in front of the back four, run around loads, kick people and maybe pass the ball ten yards on occasion if he’s feeling adventurous. Or not, but these people do actually exist. I always suspect the vociferous internet lads don’t take as much pleasure in Liverpool scoring as the rest of us do because they long for being able to tell you that they told you so, and Mane looking every inch a £30m footballer doesn’t really help you.
Personally, I quite like being wrong. Presuming I’ve been negative about someone. I was wrong about Mario Balotelli and I didn’t enjoy that, I was wrong about Fabio Borini and I didn’t like that either — maybe the issue here is that Serie A isn’t as good as I think it is? Who knows, either way, I got those wrong. Football has a habit of doing that, we’re all wrong about football plenty of times.
After Burnley I wrote this piece — What We Have Seen So Far From Jürgen Klopp’s Reds — I put forward two opinions and I now want to delete the internet because they’re embarrassingly wrong.
Firstly, James Milner — I wasn’t having him as a left-back. He looked slow in that game, didn’t know what he was doing and I think him not being at it cost us that day more than a lot of people realise.
Since then, I’ve been very, very impressed. At Spurs he survived being quite clearly targeted for the last half hour when Spurs attempted to turn the screw on the Reds, he didn’t wilt, blocked every cross, fought for every ball and was very good. Since then, there’s been more of the same. He has an attitude to crosses that basically says “Well you can try and stick that ball in there but it’s not going to happen.” Teams have tried to get at him, but such is his football intelligence he’s able to adapt to the role far easier than anyone could have expected. Bar maybe Jürgen Klopp — funny how the fella who knows more about football than me and you was right again. He could appoint Roy Hodgson as his assistant and I’d probably be fine with it, such is the hold he has over me.
It’s worth remembering that while full-back is a specialist position there’s an argument to say that if a player is so good at defending, why aren’t they playing centre-back? And if they’re so good at attacking then why aren’t they playing as a winger? The Full-Back Union will try and kill me, but there’s an element of validity in it. If Tony Evans reads this I’m expecting him to turn up at my front door and tell me about Steve Nicol for three hours.
Milner is a very good football, why shouldn’t he be a good full-back? With the benefit of a month’s hindsight it’s easy to see why it’s worked. It’s not just the defensive side that’s been good either — the attacking side is also very much acceptable and fits in to the team. On Monday Night Football, Klopp was lured into saying that we basically play 2-1-7 as a formation at times.
This means that our full-backs, Milner and Nathaniel Clyne, play very high up the pitch — so, instead of having a left-back there, we have James Milner offering an attacking option. We know from last season that he is an exceptional crosser of the ball and his passing game is good. The give-and-go with Philippe Coutinho for Adam Lallana’s opener on Saturday was a reasonable example. Quick, one touch football that set Coutinho free into space. Good footballers play good football.
His ability to beat a man while also looking like he’s running in quick sand also impresses. I was really against this as a concept at first, but I’m fully on board with it now.
I think I also owe Jordan Henderson a massive apology. I was incredibly critical of him at Burnley, though in mitigation he had an absolute nightmare in East Lancashire. However, I think we genuinely have to draw a huge line through that game and treat it like an anomaly. Anything that happened that day didn’t happen.
So Jordan, sorry. I remember in the summer there was a bizarre question people were asking about Joe Allen and why he was leaving yet Jordan Henderson was still here. Allen hadn’t demonstrated, in four years at the club, that he was on the same level as Henderson yet there we were with what felt like a majority opinion that Henderson was inferior to Allen.
If you were to argue that now then I think the Men in White Coats would be called for, such has been Henderson’s level the last month. Ordinarily you would not look at Henderson as being someone who would be suitable for a role that effectively is the third most defensive position on the pitch. He’s all about energy and quick passing and the role is typically about discipline and intelligence. This isn’t to say that Henderson is an unintelligent football, it’s just not something you would associate him with.
Klopp has ripped up the rule book on this position, though, and given Henderson the job of being the deep lying playmaker who shuttles from side to side, moves the ball quickly and backs up the play. Take the Chelsea goal for example, he was far higher up the pitch than you would expect a player of that position to be.
I’ve spent the last year or so wondering if Henderson would find his role in this side and been trying to figure out what it would be if so. Obviously, we don’t have much evidence to go on but the last few games have shown great promise. Top teams with attacking intent have been in opposition, as have Championship sides, sides that’ll be in and around the top half, as well as a side who’ll be involved in relegation scrap. He’s been suited to all.
Players like Willian and Eden Hazard were attacking us at Chelsea and they created very little, some excellent Spurs players attacked us at White Hart Lane and again not much for the keeper to do. Really good attacking sides have been stifled by the Reds, with what we all thought was an attack-minded midfielder sat in the ‘six’ — as Klopp likes to call it — and James Milner at left-back.
These may well be square pegs in round holes in the long term, I’d expect that Milner definitely is, but for now they look to fit perfectly. We might have had better players this season, and if you asked me to rank our lads one to five I may struggle to put them both in the top five, but in terms of expectations of achievement in their roles, relative to what they’ve actually achieved, they’re clearly my one and two. I expected Emre Can to walk back in to this side, now I can’t see when he gets a game.
Up the Square Peg Reds.